Thursday, 27 January 2011

Why World War II Was Fought

"The great war of 1939-1945 was fought to decide whether national socialist Germany was to dominate the world or not."

This is the first sentence of M. R. D. Foot's 'SOE in France', and what a terrific sentence it is. Its simplicity is deceptive. I would think that quite a lot of thought went into it. It is, first and foremost, utterly comprehensible. There is no obfuscation. Secondly, it is authoritative. As a piece of rhetoric it assures us that what is to follow will not be ambivalent or ambiguous unless the facts render it so. Thirdly, it relegates all other reasons for war to a rightful place below this principal one. Fourthly, the phrase "the great war of 1939-1945" resonates with the chime of history; this might be Xenophon or Herodotus. And finally it has about it a kind of fearlessness that is enormously attractive, as if to say I am not an idiot and you are not an idiot but that does not mean to say we should avoid the obvious. "Avoid the obvious at your peril," my father used to say to me, and he was quite right.

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